our everyday life

How to Trace Aboriginal Ancestry

by Peter Constanz

Everyone's grandparents tell tales about their ancestry -- they say their ancestor came to the New World on the Mayflower and married a native, or was a Governor-General, or a great tribal leader. Many of these stories may stretch the truth. However, the CIA World Factbook states that 2% of Canadians do have full Amerindian, First Peoples, or Inuit ancestry, and many more have partial ancestry. Through careful research of family history and Canadian records, you can determine whether or not you truly have Canadian aboriginal or First Peoples ancestry.

Consult Family Records

Ask any older members of your family to provide you with as much information as they can about your ancestry. Focus on concrete facts, such as last names, maiden names, and place or date of birth, not just on stories. Try to get information going back a generation or two; if you have partial European ancestry, try to find out when your ancestors first came to Canada.

Check any older family photo albums, books of records or other files. Look for wedding pictures, which often have full names and dates on them. Find older birth certificates, which often record parental names and original citizenship as well.

Search your family archives for immigration records, which may record when your ancestors originally entered Canada. Write down any information you find to assist in your later research.

Consult Government Records

Visit the Canadian Genealogy Centre, part of the Library and Archives of Canada, either in person in Ottawa or online at its website. According to its guidebook, "Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada," the Centre and Archives contain all Canadian government records dating back to the foundation of the original colonies.

Use the Ancestors Search in the Genealogy Centre or on its website to search for your ancestors' names, based on the information you found in your earlier research. Review and record the results, which draw from three centuries of census data but do not record ethnic heritage.

Use the census data to consult the Genealogy's Centre microfilm archive, which records newspapers, obituaries, marriages, major travels and other personal events dating back to the foundation of Canada. Input the names and birth years from the census data to locate as much information as possible, and then visit the microfilm archive in Ottawa to continue your research.

Use the province or territorial archives if the national archive does not confirm aboriginal ancestry. Trace your ancestors through the provincial records based on their moves over time until you find conclusive evidence of native, European or mixed origin.

Tip

  • Request copies of documents at http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/copies/index-e.html to avoid a trip to the Archives, but be sure to have the exact name of the documents you need.

Warning

  • Do not trust everything your living relatives say. Only put full trust in written government records, which are authoritative.

About the Author

Peter Constanz has been writing professionally since 2008. His current projects include a weekly film column at Sonic Eclectic and regular travel articles for the Matador Network. He also is a professional writing tutor. Constanz holds a Bachelor of Arts in classical languages and history from Hamilton College.

Photo Credits